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Relax in Venice, close to home

Well, maybe gondolas are in short supply, but Florida's city of that name offers leisurely waterside dining, shopping, beachcombing - and even a grand canal.

By MARY ANN KOSLASKY

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 7, 2000


photo
Times files 1993]
Venice and Nokomis/Casey Key beaches have a reputation for being prime hunting grounds for fossilized sharks’ teeth.
VENICE -- About 60 miles south of St. Petersburg is a slice of smalltown America, Florida style.

Originally known as Horse and Chaise (a kind of carriage), and renamed Venice in 1888, this town invites walking, with its one- and two-story buildings, tree-lined medians, parks and benches. Outside dining is a mainstay of many restaurants. Businesses range from the Soda Fountain ice cream shop to Creations Christmas shop to T.J. Carney's Pub and Grill.

Deep-sea fishing, golf, tennis, little theater and gallery hopping are among the options.

Beachcombing is also a popular pastime, for residents and visitors. Touted as the Shark Tooth Capital of the World, Venice and Nokomis/Casey Key beaches are prime hunting grounds for fossilized sharks' teeth. Some local stores are willing to buy what you find.

A particularly nice stop is Caspersen Beach, near the south end of the adjacent barrier island and reached by following S Harbor Drive. You will pass Sharky's on the Pier, a great place for a nosh on the deck overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Situated at the 750-foot Venice fishing pier, 299-seat Sharky's is a watching place -- people watching the seagulls and pelicans soaring and hovering, while the birds are watching the anglers and the beachgoers, looking for a handout. Admission to the pier is $1.

Another fun choice is Pop's Sunset Grill, 112 Circuit Road, in Nokomis, the community just to the north. Take U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) north and turn left onto Albee Road. Just before the bridge going over the causeway, turn left on Circuit Road and follow it to the end, then turn right. For a laid-back lunch or dinner, Pop's offers views of boating on the canal. Adjacent to this is Urbanek's, for indoor dining.

If you are in town in time for breakfast, try one with British flavor, at St. James Place, 117 Venice Ave. Images of the Queen Mother, Princess Diana and other royals peer from the walls. Dine out front or inside; huge muffins and assorted pastries are specialties. Hours are 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily, except Tuesdays when it is closed.

Accommodations range from high end, cookie cutter resorts to kitschy motels that were popular when U.S. 41 was the main road south. The Veranda Inn, one of the older motels, is clean, comfortable and moderately priced. A typical room has two beds and French doors opening to a tropical courtyard and a heated pool.

For more information on the area, which includes Nokomis, Casey Key, Osprey, Laurel and South Venice, and for information on accommodations and events, visit the Venice Chamber of Commerce Web site at http://www.venicechamber.com/ or call (941) 488-2236.

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